There’s speed. And there’s endurance. Rarely do the two find peace in the same body. Apolo Ohno found harmony at both ends of that athletic spectrum.
Apolo Ohno lit the Olympics on fire in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games with a gold medal in the 1500m short track. He backed it up with another Olympic gold in 2006 in the 500m short track in Turin. His Olympic career spanned three Winter Games from 2002 through 2010. In that amazing microscope career where the world peers in on every aspect of your life, Apolo earned an impressive eight Olympic medals.
Yes, Apolo has speed wired. It takes him just over 40-seconds to skate 500m in competition in short track skating. So what would motivate him to take on something at the extreme opposite end of the athletic spectrum like an IRONMAN?
“For so many years I’ve had this shield on. And I’ve never wanted to show any cracks or any weakness. And here [at IRONMAN], you can’t hide. Everybody can see you. And you feel very free. That’s how this process has been for me, and the transformation. It’s been amazing.”
Apolo Ohno is no stranger to preparation. In his words, “I prepare harder than everyone.” But he also knew he was a novice when it came to endurance. So he connected with 8-Time IRONMAN Champion Paula Newby-Fraser to help show him the ropes and be ready both physically and mentally for a day that was a universe away from what he had devoted his previous athletic life to perfecting.
Being comfortable in the realm of IRONMAN comes partially from the training. But a big part comes from surrendering to the fact that you will never be in control of your race at IRONMAN the way you can control something much shorter.
Paula described Apolo Ohno’s challenges with this:
“He’s afraid of this challenge, but he is also embracing it and I think it keeps him connected to who he is. There’s a whole new boundary that’s going to be shattered in his life.
Ohno had a secret goal: finish under 10-hours. That was totally within his physical capabilities. It would come down to the day and whether or not IRONMAN and the Island of Hawaii decided to serve up any distractions to that goal.
His swim was spot on where he wanted to be. Ohno exited at exactly an hour. The bike did it’s best to set him back, though.
The winds kicked up just as he went through a lot of the sections on the course. He held back his effort in hopes that spinning through them would save enough starch in his legs to put together a solid marathon. You don’t go under 10-hours if there’s a lot of walking involved!
On the run, Apolo Ohno found out personally what the Energy Lab was all about. It’s an isolated section late in the marathon where no spectators are allowed. It’s you, the occasional aid station and the Island. You go in on a long gradual sloping downhill that gives you a false sense of security. You come out back up that same grade with a tailwind moving at about the same speed you are. Core temperatures skyrocket. And that easy grade? It seems like a wall.
“Coming out of the Energy Lab with approximately six miles to go, I was taxed. My body was not absorbing nutrients, my thought process was not fully functioning and I was beyond tired. I zoned out and channeled the spiritual energy of the Island to carry me home.”
“I was in full warrior mode. I wasn’t going down or going to be defeated, but knew I had to find peace within myself as my body fought its way to the finish like a warrior in battle.”
Apolo Ohno persevered through those final miles. He did find the power of the Island to carry him through all the way to the finish. A man who had set so many goals and accomplished just about ever one of them added another to his DNA. He finished the IRONMAN World Championship in an amazing 9:52:27.
Here’s a video of his life-changing journey:
This is a Top-40 Greatest Moment At IRONMAN only in part because Apolo Ohno finished the IRONMAN World Championship. By doing that he joined thousands over the past 40-years who have also done that who are not Olympic champions. Most of those come no where close to having the same genetic toolbox that Apolo Ohno brings to his athletic endeavors. But all of them can also call themselves an IRONMAN.
What makes this such an incredible story is that Apolo Ohno had the strength of character to let down his guard as an Olympic Champion and jump 100% into a challenge in sport that was in no way going to come with any guarantee that his dignity and his status as a sports dignitary would be preserved. But it was that same humility that enabled him to come up with a stellar race that made him an IRONMAN.
“Through this experience I took my body and my mental capacity to a place I didn’t think was possible. What I learned that day traveling through the lava fields on the Queen K highway is that triathlon is much more than a sport. The first 60 miles of this race is preparation and the last 80 is determination. Conquering the Ironman enriched me physically, emotionally and mentally and it will be a milestone in my life, among my eight Olympic medals, that I will always remember.”
Follow Apolo Ohno on Twitter at @ApoloOhno
I am the Founder and CEO at Mark Allen Coaching. I am proud to have been voted in an ESPN global poll "The Greatest Endurance Athlete Of All Time." During my multi-sport career I won the Ironman Triathlon World Championship six time, the inaugural Triathlon World Championship at the Olympic Distance in Avignon, France, and at one point in my career I won 21 straight races across every derivation and distance. It was a great career, but that's all it would ever be unless I was able to share all of the experience and methodology we invented long before smart watches, power meters, and flashy uniforms. That's why I started Mark Allen Coaching, as a way to return to others at least the part of the gifts I received.